Of the three major Canadian art auction houses, Joyner Waddingtons takes perhaps the greatest pride in its accessibility, in its willingness to service the beginning, ascending and mature collector. As a result, it usually has more consignments than Sotheby's or Heffel at its live spring and fall sales, with lots priced, by estimate, anywhere from $1,000 to $1-million.
A consequence of this catholicity is that only occasionally does Joyner, now in its 26th year, snare a spectacular painting with big-buck sales potential, meaning it has to rely on hammering down a lot of work in the low-to mid-five figures to maintain the buoyancy of its gross revenues.
Which is just what happened Friday morning in Toronto where Joyner had 203 lots up for bidding priced by estimate at $2.4 to $3.1-million. At auction's end, it had sold about 145 of them for a touch over $2-million, including the 18-per-cent commission it applies to each successful hammer bid. Of that total, 25 per cent came from just one sale, of a pre-Group of Seven oil by Lawren Harris of a band of rowdy lumbermen that went for $519,200, premium included, on an estimate of $500,000-$700,000. The other high-estimate painting on offer, Above Revelstoke, B.C., a 1963 oil from E.J. Hughes, was declared unsold when bidding stalled at $190,000, $10,000 below the work's low-end estimate.
The auctioneer had much better luck with its more modest offerings. A Prudence Heward oil of the Eastern Townships, 30 cm by 35 cm, sold for $49,560, far surpassing its $10,000-$15,000 estimate and likely establishing a record for a sketch by the Beaver Hall Group founder. Farms in the Valley (At Meadow Creek, B.C.), a 1989 oil by Alan C. Collier, sold for $28,320, besting the previous record ($21,850) for a Collier canvas set five years ago. Also performing well were works by two deceased abstractionist masters: a small, untitled gouache by Jack Bush with a $3,000-$5,000 estimate went for just over $20,000 while a modest-sized untitled Jean Paul Riopelle, 27 cm by 16, fetched $33,040, easily besting its $20,000-$25,000 estimate.
If there was a consistent performer for Joyner Friday, it was William Kurelek. The auctioneer had three mixed-media works by the beloved Manitoba-born artist (1927-1977) for bidding and all sold either within their pre-sale estimate or above. Indeed, Handel's Messiah at Massey Hall, a vertical board selling for $93,600, represented Joyner's second highest single result on the day.
Overall, Joyner was able to sell more post-Second World War and contemporary works within or above their estimates whereas the 107 lots from earlier periods, when sold, tended to sell at the low-end estimate and often below.
"A new audience is looking for fairly contemporary works," Joyner vice-president and chief auctioneer Rob Cowley noted in an interview. "But you also have collectors who were collecting historical works in the past [getting in on the action]. . . There is that confidence now in the market for postwar art that was present for decades with the historical work."